By Kevin Bishop
After dropping a 3-0 decision to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, the Stanford men’s volleyball team (3-6, 2-4 MPSF) will play its third and fourth consecutive away games when it takes on Pepperdine and Concordia University Irvine over the weekend.
The Card took a heavy blow early in Saturday’s match against UCSB, losing the first set 25-14, and never really recovered. UCSB would win the next two sets by scores of 25-20 and 25-19. The bright spots of the team’s play came from junior outside hitter Madison Hayden, who tied his career high with 10 kills on a .286 attack percentage. Junior setter James Shaw notched 27 assists, as well as three kills and four digs. Redshirt senior outside hitter Daniel Tublin also added eight kills and two digs on the match.
As has been the case recently, the hitting disparity told the story of the match. Stanford hit just .207 overall and allowed the Gauchos to attack at a .440 clip on the night. The Card never hit over .260 in any set, while the Gauchos never failed to hit worse than .333 and had five players hit over .380. The Cardinal also had 15 hitting errors, compared to just seven for Santa Barbara.
The Card’s upcoming schedule does not look any easier. Friday’s opponent will be at No. 4 Pepperdine, where the Waves have not lost this season. The coaches’ preseason pick to win the conference, Pepperdine is currently second in the MPSF behind resurgent USC. The Trojans beat the Cardinal earlier this season in a tight three-set affair at the Galen Center.
The following day, the Card will face will Concordia University Irvine. The Eagles are future members of the NCAA Division II in men’s volleyball, having been NAIA runners-up in 2014 and champions in 2013. The non-NCAA opponent should provide some respite from a grueling schedule thus far for Stanford, which has faced top-ranked opponents in six of its last eight matches. The Card are also undefeated this season in matches in which they are favored.
After the match at UC San Diego on Feb. 14, the Card will have completed the first round of MPSF regular-season play.
Early-season injury concerns about Shaw have been assuaged, as he missed only the season opener against UC Santa Cruz. Freshman Kyle Dagostino, who replaced Shaw in that match, has transitioned into his planned role as libero. He has seen action in all nine matches so far, posting 60 assists and 25 digs.
The middle hitters have been solid. Junior All-American Conrad Kaminski leads the team with a .422 hitting percentage and ranks second with 66 kills. Senior Spencer Haly is hitting .377 with 32 kills — solid numbers for a middle hitter. The two have combined for 59 total blocks thus far.
The outside hitting rotation has yet to settle down, with great individual performances often drowned out by poor team showings. Redshirt freshman Clay Jones had a night to remember against UCLA, opening 10-for-10 and finishing with 16 kills on .520 hitting. Hayden had one of his strongest performances against UCSB, posting 10 kills to lead the team. Tublin notched a double-double against Cal Baptist with 15 kills and 10 digs.
But the Card are hitting just .216 for the season, far below the standard for a team with national title aspirations. Head coach John Kosty’s considerable acumen will be put to work to coax production out of this temperamental unit. The pieces are there, but the consistency has yet to show itself.
The top eight MPSF teams will make the conference tournament, and with Stanford currently sitting at eight, the team will be forced to grow if it wants to make a run up the standings before the MPSF tournament approaches.
Contact Kevin Bishop at kbishop ‘at’ stanford.edu.